C1983. KLAUS TENNSTEDT Cond. London Phil.: Ruslan and Ludmilla - Overture (Glinka); Symphony #7 in A (Beethoven); w. RADU LUPU: Piano Concerto in a (Grieg). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1255, Live Performance, 21 Nov., 1989, Royal Festival Hall. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“As a tribute to the late Romanian pianist Radu Lupu, this sterling reading of the Greig Piano Concerto could hardly be bettered. By 1989 the concerto was already beginning to fall out of favor, through no fault of its own (without it and the incidental music to PEER GYNT, would Grieg have been credited with any masterpieces?). Lupu made an admired commercial recording for Decca in 1973 with André Previn and the London Symphony, but here he sounds more spontaneous and imaginative. Just as importantly, he has Klaus Tennstedt as a warm, fully engaged accompanist.
Besides his accustomed refinement, Lupu plays with sparkle and brio here, two qualities I don’t associate with him. St. Laurent Studio has released an outstanding 1983 account of the Brahms First Piano Concerto from Lupu with Tennstedt and the London Philharmonic [C1970]. This Grieg performance matches it for being a genuine collaboration between soloist and conductor. Lupu releases startling power in the first-movement cadenza, an added surprise for me because of its visceral impact. The quality of the contribution from the LPO is made clear by the beautifully phrased introduction to the slow movement, perfectly setting the stage for Lupu’s delicate Chopinesque entry. The vibrancy of the finale caps a reading in which everyone plays the Grieg Piano Concerto with the passionate conviction that makes the music new again.
Tennstedt was ‘on’ throughout the rest of the program too, carrying over the passion and intensity of the first half in a Beethoven Seventh that relives the glory days of great German conducting - the performance is powerful, noble, spontaneous, and thrilling. I’d have to go back to Furtwängler’s wartime Beethoven for music-making that feels so alive in the moment. The LPO musicians get so carried away that execution isn’t always perfect, particularly when the finale grows nearly frantic, but this is of small consequence in the soaring rush of a great Beethoven Seventh.
This CD is the only release, so far as I know, that includes the entire concert of November 21, 1989 at a time when Tennstedt, however acclaimed for his studio recordings, unleashed his passionate nature only under concert conditions. The program begins with a reading of Glinka’s RUSLAN AND LUDMILLA Overture that benefits from not going at breakneck speed; the only drawback is an overly prominent and very enthusiastic timpanist, who also gets in volleys of fortissimo thwacks in the finale of the Beethoven.
Producer Yves St-Laurent doesn’t reveal his sources, but this is clearly a transfer from the original BBC radio broadcast. The Beethoven Seventh was previously released on BBC Legends, which features quite good FM-stereo sound thanks to access to the original tapes. Here, the sound is more than listenable in St-Laurent’s expert transfer, but there is some tape hiss, and Lupu’s piano is a bit hard. Nonetheless, if you are attuned to the kind of excitement Tennstedt could generate at his most spontaneous, the Grieg and Beethoven performances are both unmissable.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
“If Mr. Lupu’s solo records capture only a hint of the aura he exhibited in concert, his ethereality is made close to tangible on several of them, including one of Schubert’s Impromptus from 1982 that draws impossible tension from the natural flow of its singing lines; a pair of Schubert sonatas that won a Grammy Award in 1996; and a collection of late Brahms from the 1970s that is suffused with such understanding, such light and shade, that the result, as the critic Alex Ross put it, comes ‘as close to musical perfection as you could ask’.
’But I did not really play the piano as an end in itself’, Mr. Lupu told THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR in 1970. ‘I made tunes on it, and from the very beginning I regarded myself as a composer. I was sure, and everybody else was sure, that one day I would become a famous composer’.
He gave up composing only when he was 16, four years after his professional debut as a pianist in Brasov, Romania. He trained at the Bucharest Conservatory with Florica Musicescu, who had previously taught another cultivated Romanian, Dinu Lipatti, to whom Mr. Lupu was sometimes compared. Mr. Lupu attended the Moscow Conservatory for much of the 1960s; his professors there included Heinrich Neuhaus, tutor to two temperamentally different artists, Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels.
‘I found even the most elementary rudiments of piano technique very difficult’, he confessed to THE MONITOR, ‘because this needed great self-discipline, and as for years I had imagined that I would one day become a composer, I had always felt that this sort of perfection wasn’t going to be needed’.
Even so, Mr. Lupu placed fifth at the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna in 1965 before sweeping to victory at the Cliburn finals in Fort Worth the next year. ‘I really do not like competition at all’, he told the press then; he nonetheless shared first prize at the George Enescu International Competition in Bucharest in 1967 and triumphed at the Leeds International Piano Competition in England in 1969.
Fanny Waterman, the founder of the Leeds, recalled Mr. Lupu inviting the jury to tell him which of the Beethoven concertos to play; they declined, and he won with the first movement of the Third. He recorded that Beethoven with Lawrence Foster and the London Symphony Orchestra in 1970 - a prelude to his later complete survey of the five concertos with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic.
Despite such successes, he already struck listeners as anything but a standard-issue product of the competition circuit. ‘He is somewhat different from the regulation contest winner, in that he is not primarily a brilliant and impeccable technician’, Raymond Ericson wrote in THE TIMES of Mr. Lupu’s Carnegie Hall debut in April 1967. Harold Schonberg, also in THE TIMES, thought the Brahms First Concerto, with which Mr. Lupu returned to the hall in 1972, ‘willful, episodic and mannered’, but allowed that it at least had ‘the virtue of not being stamped from the same old cookie cutter’.
Mr. Lupu, who retired in 2019, made few recordings for a pianist of his stature; he admitted to tensing up in the presence of studio and even radio microphones. A boxed set of his solo releases on Decca runs to a mere 10 discs, the last from the mid-1990s. As well as further concertos, including Mozart, Schumann and Grieg, Mr. Lupu recorded duets with the violinists Szymon Goldberg and Kyung Wha Chung, and two-piano or four-hand works with Mr. Barenboim and Murray Perahia.
‘The audience element is the most important element in the concert’, he said. ‘But it is also true that if I can make music for myself, even while practicing, and be moved by it, then that will project to the audience. So it may seem I am playing for myself, but it’s not quite like that. Why should I make a big show of the whole thing?’”
David Allen, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 20 April, 2022
“A sure sign that there’s something special about Radu Lupu is the awe that he inspires in other top performers. Talking to THE NEW YORKER critic Alex Ross a while ago, Mitsuko Uchida called him ‘the most talented guy I have ever met’. (Ross also wrote about Lupu in 2005, and described a Lupu recording as ‘one of the most beautiful piano records ever made’.) The gifted young pianist Kirill Gerstein described Lupu’s uniqueness well in a recent interview:
When asked what it is that makes Lupu such a significant pianist, Gerstein mused that ‘(Lupu) transcends any technical or musical issues and creates a certain magic that he conjures up in the air in the concert hall. He manages to create a very intimate atmosphere. It is something that you can’t get from a recording’, Gerstein continued, ‘you must experience it live. His sound in the concert hall is absolutely irreplaceable’.
What is it about Lupu’s sound, then? Sound is notoriously hard to describe in words, but here’s a stab at it. The basic tone of the piano is, on its own, quite neutral by comparison with other instruments. This means that the sound worlds evoked by the piano vary enormously, depending on how different composers write for it. In the core classical repertoire (Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert), for which Lupu is best known, you expect a sound that is muscular, objective, straightforward. In another school of piano writing (extending, say, from Chopin to Debussy and Scriabin), something more diaphanous and sensual seems appropriate. Here, for comparison, is the same pianist, Claudio Arrau, playing in one style, and the other.
What Lupu somehow has done, I think, is to find greater amplitude, more layered gradations of subtlety, within the world of the basic classical sound than anyone else. His playing is infinitely refined without ever exceeding the bounds of what’s idiomatic for the music….to me, it’s as if a new light glows from the very heart of the piece. I remember, a few years ago, hearing Lupu play the quietest, strangest, but maybe most compelling ‘Appassionata’ I’ve ever heard. Not a quiet piece, you would think, but, actually, a lot of the final movement is marked ‘quiet’ in the score, and playing it this way imparts a nocturnal quality.
There’s another facet to the excitement of a Lupu concert: he no longer records. You know that when you hear him play, you will never hear the piece like this again….when you go to his concerts, your ears and brain have to drink in all they can. There are details of his performances that I can remember years later….But I also know that there were many more such details than I could possibly remember. They have left a vague imprint of wonderment, as after a dream….That sound again. Instead of foreground and background, melody and accompaniment, there seemed to be a whole ecosystem of sound: lines emerging, glowing briefly, then fading.”
- Leo Carey, THE NEW YORKER, 24 Jan., 2013